Australian PM says border won’t open yet despite NSW premier's announcement

Australian PM says border won’t open yet despite NSW premier's announcement

The empty arrivals hall at the international airport in Sydney on Friday. (Photo: AFP)
The empty arrivals hall at the international airport in Sydney on Friday. (Photo: AFP)

SYDNEY: Australia’s protracted border ban looks set to remain in place for overseas tourists, international students and working visa holders, despite the leader of its most-populous state announcing travel restrictions would be lifted for vaccinated travelers from next month.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet on Friday announced a major policy shift, saying that borders would open to fully-inoculated visitors on Nov 1, with no requirement for quarantine if they tested negative for Covid-19 before boarding their flight. 

But hours later, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said restrictions would only be eased on Nov 1 for returning residents and their families. No decision has been made on when the country will open to tourists and other visa holders, he said at a press conference.

 “We are not opening up to everyone coming back to Australia at the moment. I want to be clear about that,” Morrison said. “It is for the Commonwealth and federal government to decide when the border opens at an international level.”

Morrison did say that skilled migrants and students would be welcomed back before any international tourists, without elaborating. 

Australia has been subject to one of the world’s strictest controls on overseas travel since the pandemic hit in March 2020, with caps placed on arrivals and returning travelers subject to hotel quarantine at their own cost.

Still, in a win for the tens of thousands of Australians waiting to overseas to repatriate, Qantas announced it will bring forward the restart of its international flights by two weeks to Nov 1, following the easing of restrictions.

The airline will operate as many as five return flights a week from Sydney to London and up to four return flights a week from Sydney to Los Angeles with its Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

These flights are limited to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, in line with government rules.

Under the new rules, arrivals of unvaccinated people into NSW will be capped at 210 per week. Those who have not received an approved vaccine will still have to undergo 14 days of hotel quarantine.

NSW’s vaccination rate for people aged 16 and over is set to reach 80% this weekend.

Morrison said the changes to border restrictions were a demonstration of how high vaccination rates would allow “Australians to start reclaiming so many of the things that have been taken from them throughout this pandemic.” 

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